Executive Times






2006 Book Reviews


Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez








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Old age need not diminish the search for love, and the passage of time may increase the desire for love. The 90 year old narrator of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ new novel, Memories of My Melancholy Whores, begins the book with this line: “The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin.” His friend, the brothel owner Rosa Cabarcas, first discourages him, but then finds a 14 year old girl, and when the girl arrives in his room at the brothel, she promptly falls asleep, and the memories sleeping with over five hundred prostitutes fill the old man. Sadness pervades this book, as does the pleasure of finding love. Here’s an excerpt, from the beginning of Chapter 2, pp. 31-35:


I am writing these memories in the little that remains of the library that belonged to my par­ents, and whose shelves are about to collapse as a result of the patience of bookworms. ‘When all is said and done, for what I still have left to do in this world, I’d be satisfied with my many kinds of dictionaries, the first two series of the Episodios nacionales by Don Benito Perez Galdós, and The Magic Mountain, which taught me to understand my mother’s moods, distorted by consumption.


Unlike the rest of the furniture, and unlike me, the large table on which I am writing seems to grow healthier with the passage of time, because my pater­nal grandfather, a ship’s carpenter, fashioned it from noble woods. Even when I don’t have to write, I arrange it every morning with the pointless rigor that has made me lose so many lovers. Within reach I have the books that are my accomplices: the two vol­umes of the Primer diccionario ilustrado of the Royal Academy, dated 1903; the Tesoro de la lengiia caste­/lana o espanola of Don SebasthIn de Covarrubias; Don Andrés Bello’s grammar, essential in the event I have a semantic question; the innovative Diccionario ideológico by Don Julio Casares, in particular for its antonyms and synonyms; the Vocabolario del/a lingua italiana, by Nicola Zingarelli, to help me with my mother’s language, which I learned in the cradle; and a Latin dictionary: since it is the mother of the other two, I consider it my native tongue.


On the left side of the writing table I always keep five sheets of office-size rag paper for my Sunday col­umn, and the horn with sand to dry the ink, which I prefer to the modern pad of blotting paper. On the right are the inkwell and holder of light balsa wood with its gold pen, for I still write in the romantic hand that Florina de Dios taught me so I would not adopt the functionary’s handwriting of her husband, who was a public notary and certified accountant until he drew his final breath. Some time ago the newspaper ordered everyone to type in order to improve esti­mates of the text in the linotype’s lead and achieve greater accuracy in typesetting, but I never adopted that bad habit. I continued to write by hand and to transcribe on the typewriter with a hen’s arduous pecking, thanks to the unwanted privilege of being the oldest employee. Today, retired but not defeated, I enjoy the sacred privilege of writing at home, with the phone off the hook so that no one can disturb me, and without a censor looking over my shoulder to see what I am writing.


I live without dogs or birds or servants, except for the faithful Damiana who has rescued me from the most unexpected difficulties, and who still comes once a week to take care of whatever there is to do, even in the state she is in, losing her sight and her acumen. My mother on her deathbed asked me to marry a fair-skinned woman while I was young and have at least three children, one of them a girl with her name, which had also been her mother’s and grandmother’s. I intended to comply with her request, but my notion of youth was so flexible I never thought it was too late. Until one hot afternoon when I opened the wrong door in the house of the Palomar de Cas­tro family in Pradomar and saw Ximena Ortiz, the youngest of the daughters, naked as she took her siesta in the adjoining bedroom. She was lying with her back to the door, and she turned to look at me over her shoulder with a gesture so rapid it didn’t give me time to escape. Oh, excuse me, I managed to say, my heart in my mouth. She smiled, turned toward me with the grace of a gazelle, and showed me her entire body. The whole room felt saturated with her intimacy. Her nakedness was not absolute, for like Manet’s Olympia, behind her ear she had a poisonous flower with orange petals, and she also wore a gold bangle on her right wrist and a necklace of tiny pearls. I imagined I would never see anything more exciting for as long as I lived, and today I can confirm that I was right.


I slammed the door shut, embarrassed by my blun­dering and determined to forget her. But Ximena Ortiz prevented that. She sent me messages with mutual friends, provocative notes, brutal threats, while she spread the rumor that we were mad with love for each other though we hadn’t exchanged a word. She was impossible to resist. She had the eyes of a wildcat, a body as provocative with clothes as without, and luxuriant hair of uproarious gold whose woman’s smell made me weep with rage into my pil­low. I knew it would never turn into love, but the satanic attraction she held for me was so fiery that I attempted to find relief with every green-eyed tart I came across. I never could put out the flame of her memory in the bed at Pradomar, and so I surrendered my weapons to her with a formal request for her hand, an exchange of rings, and the announcement of a large wedding before Pentecost.


The news exploded with greater impact in the Ba­rrio Chino than in the social clubs. At first it was met with derision, but this changed into absolute vexation on the part of those erudite women who viewed mar­riage as a condition more ridiculous than sacred. My engagement satisfied all the rituals of Christian mor­ality on the terrace, with its Amazonian orchids and hanging ferns, of my fiancée’s house. I would arrive at seven in the evening dressed all in white linen, with a gift of handcrafted beads or Swiss chocolates, and we would talk, half in code and half in seriousness, until ten, watched over by Aunt Argenida, who fell asleep in the blink of an eye, like the chaperones in the nov­els of the day.


Marquez’ fine writing shines again on the pages of Memories of My Melancholy Whores.



Steve Hopkins, December 22, 2005



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the January 2006 issue of Executive Times


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